"Thank you so much for all your efforts and understanding creating one of the most beautiful bronzes ever. Our heartfelt thanks to you for creating exactly what we had envisioned. Your work and creativity is unmatched, also we know this was done from your heart. It was a very special day for a lot of families, thank you for sharing your talents, time and especially your presence. You and your husband are very special people who we will never stop thanking."
~ Deb Comeau - Port Huron Mining Memorial Commission
“Paula, I just wanted you to know the meeting went very well, the committee members were just amazed with the photos of the statue. They were thrilled with the detail and can’t wait to see the finished bronze atop the pedestal. Deb and I are also very amazing with your talents. We want you to know this is deeply appreciated.”
~ Randy Comeau – Port Huron Mining Memorial Committee
The life-like bronze of a miner with pic-axe in one hand and lunch pail in the other looks out over the inspiring blue waters of Lake Huron. It graces the middle of a beautiful park created in Michigan to memorialize the twenty-two miners who perished in the tragic 1971 Port Huron water tunnel explosion. The names of the twenty-two miners lost to this terrible accident are engraved upon the 5’ high solid granite pedestal.
Over 350 people attended the dedication along with the Coast Guard, the Red Cross and the 1971 Fire and Rescue workers. The Honor Guard placed a wreath by the sculpture, there was a 21 Gun Salute and Memorial Taps were played. The Memorial has since been designated a Michigan State Landmark.
The accident, one of the worst in state history, was blamed on poor ventilation and poor communication between contractors–the drillers had no idea that men were working in the tunnel. The explosion was caused by drillers on a platform in Lake Huron who bored through the tunnel’s concrete liner while men were still in the tunnel. A spark ignited a pocket of methane, causing a blast that hurled men and heavy machinery along the tunnel.
“It still amazes me how all of those men could be gone in the twinkling of an eye,” Radford, 61, of Turtletown, Tenn., said of the accident that killed 22 men and left him permanently disabled.
It happened at 3:11 p.m., Dec. 11, 1971, as the men worked on the final mile of the tunnel, which provides drinking water for millions of Detroit Water and Sewerage Department customers in southeast Michigan.
And now, more than 35 years later, friends and family members of the victims have dedicated the brick, stone and bronze monument to their loved ones. “It’s long overdue,” said Radford, who counts himself lucky to be alive. “Those were some mighty fine men who lost their lives that day. They were my friends. Any tribute they receive is well deserved.”
The memorial is the brainchild of Debbie Comeau and her husband, Randy, of Port Huron. Randy’s father, Raymond Comeau, died in the accident; he was 35. Six years ago, after learning that her husband’s father died in the accident, Comeau decided to start raising money to erect a memorial.
Slater was selected to create the life-size bronze statue of a tunnel worker who stands on the pedestal. Slater says she jumped at the chance to work on the tunnel memorial. “It really touched my heart. I get to sculpt so many wonderful projects that I get to pick the ones that are really inspiring to me. This one was very inspiring.” She presented the committee with three design sketches and they chose the one depicted by the statue she sculpted.
Cherie Fogal Darmis, 55, a Lexington real estate agent whose first husband, Donald Fogal Jr., died in the accident, said she spent 17 years grieving her loss. “It brings some closure,” she said of the memorial. “And it gives my husband a chance to be remembered by his family and friends. He laid down his life for us.”